Rome Contemporary Chapel_Evoking The City’s Cultural Legacy
Edoardo Cappella, Vittorio Cassabgi & Marco Petrangeli for Archmedium Rome Contemporary Chapel
This is a polemical response to the questions raised by Rome’s present condition, an ideological critique towards the general perception of the past in the “eternal city”.
Rejecting a view of the past as a crystalizing element, we believe that it is precisely within it that the clues which enable our thinking of the future image of the city lie.
In the spirit of the Instauratio Urbis, the proposal is conceived as a re-evaluation of Rome’s cultural legacy: like in Piranesi’s work, we are exploring the possibility of manifesting, through our building, the underlying qualities that make the essence of a timeless Roman artefact.
We believe that a contemporary sacred building in the Campo Marzio, historically known as a chaotic agglomeration of large architectural objects, has to imply a certain use of scale, mass and physicality in order to successfully establish itself as a new architectural actor in this historically charged screenplay.
We therefore think that a “small pavilion”, as required by the brief, would not be able to solve the challenges represented by this specific site and would be inadequate if related to the architectural presence which comes to mind when considering sacred architecture in Rome.
From an urban point of view, we decided to reach out to the city by occupying the whole available site, in order to recompose the original streetscape.
We see a new sacred building here as a compelling occasion to reinstate Via Giulia as the city’s experimental laboratory, as in pope Giulio II’s urban strategy.
Our project’s core values stand as a testimony of a modus operandi through which we think is possible to give back meaning to contemporary architecture in this part of Rome.
The Multiplicity Of Sacrality
Having acknowledged, according to the different cultures and religions, the multiple nature of the sacred, our intention is to spatially translate this idea through an architecture of possibilities.
We believe a human being’s relationship with sacrality and the metaphysical can be described as a journey, a continuous quest towards something which cannot be clearly defined. Consequently, we are not giving an answer through our architecture; we are trying to offer a series of different possibilities where to go and look for one. These sculptural, grotto-like spaces, carved out of the building’s flesh, dramatically filter zenithal light through a variety of roof typologies and room heights.
We believe the building should communicate a sense of monumental timelessness and permanence, in a way that makes it difficult to link it precisely to a certain era. We are reducing architecture to its essential qualities through an aesthetic of mass and substance, where the rustication offered by diamond-shaped travertine blocks offers a strong sense of physicality, a clear reference to Ancient Roman architecture. An introverted, hermetically sealed fortress, exuding sacrality.
We think that the requested program is very challenging and dangerous to resolve through the use of one catalyzing main space. Our project is therefore organized as a non hierarchical series of contemplative rooms with an open courtyard at their heart, a rich and omnidirectional sequence of highly atmospheric and emotional spaces, open for interpretation according to one’s own spiritual sense and idea of contemplation.
Office spaces and public services are organized on various floors and integrated into the design through the use of a separate entrance courtyard, offering light through the pre-existing wall’s windows.
Who influences you graphically?
We always felt that a key challenge of this project, considering the unique setting in which it lies, was to subtly evoke romanity – all our graphic efforts therefore derive from the necessity to convey Rome’s essence. During the design process, our main graphical influence slowly turned into the city of Rome itself, and subsequently into who, like Nolli or Piranesi, revolutionized its image in the 18th century.
Overall, we are very attracted by the emotional and sensual power of an image and by how a picturesque approach to visualization can blur the line between reality and fiction. Images from offices like Caruso St John, Sergison Bates or Barozzi Veiga are very concerned with these issues and are therefore stuck in the back of our minds. Regarding the plans, in order to communicate a strong, physical sense of mass, we constantly looked at old drawings from the likes of Boullè, Ledoux, John Soane or Borromini. We also had quite a fascination with plans of ancient roman mausoleums and military architecture, such as the Clara Castle in Ireland.
To what extent and how does the format of the competition effect the means through which you choose to reveal a proposal?
In our opinion the means are strictly related to the constraints represented by a specific format. It is often through fighting with tight restrictions that the best ideas come out, and by best we mean the ones that reach a high level of synthesis. Having to show everything on a single A1 panel, we tried to carefully pick the number and type of drawings and images in order to convey the maximum amount of information through the minimum amount of images. We wanted to be as clear and direct as possible.
What was your work process in terms of programs used?
The two images are actually done through different techniques, but strive to achieve the same feel. The exterior is a pure collage, where lines taken from a Rhino 3d model are then juiced up entirely in Photoshop. The interior image, having to speak about how light is sculpturally filtered through mass, relies on digital rendering and a good amount of Photoshop post production. Plans, sections and axos are all Nolli-influenced and use his texture from “Nuova Pianta di Roma” in order to achieve a strong character and actually make a statement on the project. We wanted to produce drawings that could be directly related to the city’s cultural legacy.
What dictated the choice of the specific room you choose to reveal? Why one exterior and one interior image?
By looking at our plan and making some test shots it was easy to notice how this was the perspective that was charged with the biggest amount of information on the project. It clearly evokes one of the project’s fundamentals – the idea of a sacred space as a journey through one’s conscience, represented by a sequence of rooms that give the possibility to “choose” your own way through the building. We liked the drama offered by the depth of the image together with the way in which it describes the presence of an open cloister at the heart of the building, through the amount of light that comes in from one side.
The interior/exterior choice was dictated, on one side, from the absolute necessity to declare our main facade and evoke its timeless idea of permanence, together with describing the generous urban gesture of incorporating a renaissance-like stone bench towards the piazza. On the other, nailing the interior atmosphere was key to achieving a seductive and potentially winning proposal.
We believe that in a competition it is always better to use few highly charged and prominent images rather than indulge in an array of many images, but with no character whatsoever.
What defined the rectangular long format?
Thin, slender images were in our opinion an elegant format in order to communicate a strong sense of ascent, which is very important when considering sacrality and the metaphysical. We also had a horizontal panel which worked very well if divided in a rhythmical sequence of vertically orientated strips, telling a story and gradually moving from the urban realm of the project to the more architectural one.
What is the effect and purpose of the two silhouettes?
The two sitting silhouettes aim to convey the laic values of the project. The chapel is a place for intimate meditation and is completely open to all, so we figured that it wouldn’t have been correct to recall any sort of religious creed by using direct references in the silhouettes.
Moreover, the two figures were chosen because of the depth and power of their “empty” expressions. They look absent in a way, as if in a deep state of contemplation, but at the same time are holding each other’s hand and maybe pondering on the weight of time passing, considering their senile appearance.